Challenges of getting around and fitting in

Currently I am working on a study and I would very much appreciate your comments on this. The subject is how expats staying in Hungary manage to cope with the challenges of everyday life here. In which areas do foreigners find it difficult to get the necessary information they need? How do you find reliable handymen when something needs to be fixed? Who do you turn to for advice when you are looking for particular service providers? How integrated can you become into the local community? In which areas of life you do feel the disadvantage of the language barrier? In your mind, what are the most acute problems (challenges) facing expats here?

Thanks a lot in advance for your contributions!

For all of the important things buying somewhere and getting residency there have been no problems. I have got a bit of a mixed view so far on other things and have discovered that things I really like to get sorted out as soon as possible ,such as leaking toilets, the Hungarian previous owners have  just lived with for years and years and years.
My gardener didn't do anything about a wasps nest until it had come right through the ceiling causing lots of damage . He just watched it growing !
Needless to say language is a big barrier but when I am in the countryside I enjoy the solitude and not understanding all the chit chat going on around me all the time.
Plumbers.. absolute zero success.. and a real bug bear for me.
I strongly suspect many trades persons are self taught and really have no idea how to do any of the jobs properly. Even decorating can be very slap dash. I buy the stuff now and bring people over from the UK.
Even Hungarian people have difficulties, my handyman had his car broken badly at the garage by people pretending to fix it.

Hungarian and Dutch friends have been really fantastic finding some trustworthy people to help me but sometimes this can go a bit wrong because of cultural or communication issues.
Needless to say some  builders and agents I have used in the past have stolen things eg buying extra materials and not using them on my home . My tools have often gone missing at the end of a job. Maybe because they don't think women should own tools ?
Recently, I had someone in to give an estimate to paint some ceilings and he broke one of the panels to prove that I needed the whole ceiling replaced . My friend who had let him in didn't challenge this behaviour so now I am always about to make sure they behave properly in my home.
It can be very irritating paying bank charges just to have an account and some difficulties posed by arranging gas and electricity to be paid by direct debt .
However it is all an adventure and most of the time I can just enjoy my space, my friends and discovering new and positive things.

anns :

..... some  builders and agents I have used in the past have stolen things eg buying extra materials and not using them on my home . My tools have often gone missing at the end of a job. Maybe because they don't think women should own tools ?...

I don't think it's about women but probably just opportunistic that you probably have better tools than them and decent tools can be very expensive.  A decent branded hammer drill (i.e, Dewalt, Makita etc) can cost around EUR 300.

This pilfering happens everywhere.  I have to hide (and I mean really hide) my tools to stop workmen using and taking stuff.  If one has work done, workmen need to be watched over. If they remove anything,  I've found cases where electricians have removed stuff to redo something and then they've put the removed parts in their tool bags.  Plumbers have also stolen my tools and materials. One needs to lower the scope for opportunistic theft. I keep everything out of their sight and I'm not afraid to challenge them.  It's no good after they've left the premises.

I bought myself a small engraver and I've engraved my name on all my tools. Now there's no argument. Because of this sort of thing, I've learnt to do my own repairs. It's not so difficult to do most things.  Interestingly, it can be just as cheap to buy the tools as to pay someone to do it.  And once you've got the tools, you can reuse them.

Also, if one lend anything to people willingly, one might not get it back.  Books I find are often not returned. So these days, I do not lend my tools to anyone - I will go with the person to work on the job with them rather than let my tools out of view.

fruitsofyoga :

How do you find reliable handymen when something needs to be fixed?

Professional "handymen" are rare in Hungary. Mainly because of the requirement to have some type of business structure in Hungary to do most any type of payment transaction (everything you do, even for the tiniest payment, is suppose to come with a receipt from a tax approved receipt book). So much of the "handyman" market is black. And black markets are not just outside the tax regime, but also outside building and repair regulations, and thus highly unpredictable in the quality of the training the person has, in the workmanship of whatever job you need done.

Repairs in Hungary can at times be oddly similar to those found at the Handyman's Corner, in the "Red Green Show", but with less Duct Tape.

fruitsofyoga :

How integrated can you become into the local community?

Let me put it this way:

I live in a small village. There are some Hungarians who moved here 20 years ago and they are still considered by some of the "locals" to be "foreigners".   :)

fluffy2560 :

(i.e, Dewalt, Makita etc)

I don't hire a contractor unless they have their own Dewalt, Makita etc. tools. Shows they are serious about being in construction. Yes, they cost more. But they also, usually, do better work.

But, marking (engraving) your tools or other equipment is always a good idea in any case.

That made me laugh the waste pipe from my toilet is covered in duct tape .

Anns, Fluffy, kisallee:

From your comments I see that the issue of finding good (and English-speaking) handymen IS quite an issue here. What else can you think of? I would most of all be interested to locate areas where a lot of foreigners seem to be lost not knowing where to turn to or not being able to find the source of information.

I am very lucky that my husband speaks perfect Hungarian and was raised in Budapest for the first 23 years of his life.
After coming home after being away for 42 years, he even finds things challenging here.
he still expects people to stand behind their work like they used to in the past. sadly even he has been ripped off in the past few years we have returned to his city.
Now it has really come down to him having me not speak in public when we are doing any sort of business.
I tend to get upset about that because in the US I have never noticed anyone being taken extra advantage of just because they don't understand the language.
Prices are the same for everyone in the US. Here if you speak English, most often they say there was a pricing mistake and charge you more. They think you must have it so they should help themselves to your money.
My husband is handy and we do most repairs ourselves or ask a neighbor to help with something heavy, we always either give them a few bucks for their trouble or buy them a small gift.
Fitting in, well we know many people of Hungarian birth who lived for many years in the US and have now moved back to HU to retire.
They say they miss allot of the US and they all visit each other and don't mix much with other Hungarians who never left the country. People are somehow slightly envious of them and they are not comfortable with their own countrymen.
me, I get on  with just about anyone, had several Hungarian girlfriends I met a local health clubs. Had dinner parties with them, went out for coffee etc. My husband sort of put a stop to my HU friendships because of his own sort of fears. Don't know what they were exactly but lately he doesn't even enjoy the company of US/HU old time friends.
Some people seem jealous of us and others are using us to their advantage for rides, or to show people they know Americans as myself.Don't understand it but it is the way it is.
Many of the HU from the US had legal issues in the states and they ran home to HU to hide out. One reason we don't want their company, not trustworthy.
We know a handful of Hungarians who were deported from the US, not our type of people, too dangerous and sleazy.
We are happy to hang out with simple people who are not trying to show off or to get something out of us. Hard to find but we know a few here.
We used to go to senior dances with a neighbor, I would dance with the other ladies in a group and just have a good time.If you are too open in social situations here, many people do not understand you are just being friendly and having fun. The older generation is very conservative here and we are too old to hang out with college kids.
We will never fit in here but all is good, at least we have our eyes open.

fruitsofyoga :

areas where a lot of foreigners seem to be lost not knowing where to turn to or not being able to find the source of information.

Unfortunately, in Hungary, one can go to different people and often can get a different answer from each of them. This is even true if you ask officials in offices who are suppose to know the "answer". So, pretty much any topic may cause problems for foreigners seeking information.

This is not just a language barrier issue; my wife speaks Hungarian and she often can not get a clear answer on many topics unless she either spends a great deal of time pursuing the issue, or if she already knows someone (learned from prior time spent and experience) is competent in the area of question to give a correct answer.

Hungary is not so much an information society as an opinion based one.  (The old "jokes" that if you ask two Hungarians a question you will hear three opinions, or the Hungarian speaker will only tell the English speaker 10% of what they are thinking). For those who expect clear and transparent information exchange, Hungary may be difficult.

I have quite a few hypotheses* why this is so (laws often seem ambiguous and open to interpretation, laws often change and no one can keep up with what the current law says, incompetent employees who just don't care if they give a right answer or not, bureaucrats**, etc.).

What do I do: Be patient. Eventually an "answer" will be provided if you ask around enough. In critical issues I seek the advise of an attorney (I have to resort to, and spent more on, legal advise to get a clear idea on a topic in Hungary than in any other country I have lived in). I have found the current Hungarian Ombudsman office often gives a sane and reasonable position.

What I do not recommend for an expat is to just do what others (Hungarians or other expats) around them are doing. Hungarians know the system, know someone in the system to catch their back***. Both attributes an expat may not have. So it is one thing for a Hungarian to go into a grey (or black) area without consequences, the expat may not be so lucky.

* Well, that is also an opinion of sorts.... see, it is infectious.  :)

** FWIIW: Bureaucrats are ubiquitous, and I have not found them in Hungary to be any worse than anywhere else.

*** But not always -- a Hungarian installed an illegal wall and put up an illegal structure near us recently on his property, and the building office made him remove both -- so Hungary is not "lawless", and some topic are, actually, pretty clear (I know because I happened to ask the building office about walls some years ago, and on that topic they gave a clear and direct answer immediately).

Yes, it seems to help to know people here but my husband never asks for help which makes matters harder at times.
When I was having my insane immigration issues my husband for a split second was thinking of contacting his old schoolmate. At the time he was the head of the Health Ministry of Hungary, Miklos someone.
They were old mates for over 5 years when they were children.
It would really take more then that for my husband to call in old favors though.
What got us was the internet site for immigration gave us the wrong address for the offices, 3 years ago this happened.
I hope they have finally updated their web site.
The frustrating thing is sometimes we find nothing has changed since 1989, only now people want to be paid more for their unhelpful services.
We don't let it bother us any longer however, we just read up on all issues and find out what other Hungarians have experienced before doing anything.
I am glad you got that wall taken down, some people know no "limits".

Marilyn Tassy :

What got us was the internet site for immigration gave us the wrong address for the offices, 3

My favorite is when they give a phone number on their web site, you call it, and you get a fax machine whining in your ear. Happens still today.......

Marilyn Tassy :

I am glad you got that wall taken down, some people know no "limits".

Many abuse the system here, because there often are no significant consequences. The same person purchased a house under local historical protection, tore it down and built a new house. He just shrugged off the rather pathetic fine for destroying local history.

You must be willing to fight for your rights here or you will be walked on.
My husband is now of the age to ride the public transportation at no cost to him. He rarely uses this service but nice to know it's there in case the weather is too bad to drive or for any reason. very nice to just hop on and not worry about buying a ticket etc. first.
When he was 62 years old we read that because he had papers to prove he was retired and that he was a HU citizen he could apply for a senior discount for public transportation. Forgot the cost but near or the same price as the student rate per month.
He had the hardest time getting the discount and only got it because he would not stop bothering the then BKV offices.
They would rather you just go away then to have to help you.

Marilyn Tassy :

You must be willing to fight for your rights here or you will be walked on.

Unfortunate, but true.

I am an easy going, laid back personality. But here I have developed the attitude:

    If bullied, bully back even stronger.

It is at times the only thing that works. (Again -- sad. But that is local reality.)

Marilyn Tassy :

They would rather you just go away then to have to help you.

Someone recently wrote elsewhere on-line (paraphrased):

    Basically the system in Hungary is setup up for obfuscation. They seem to hope you give up and go home rather than get your rights.

I agree 100%.
Personally am ready to leave here but must wait it out some.
Never thought to find myself actually living here. Visiting was always the most I could take, 6 weeks and ready to go.
The US does have allot of problems and rip off's too but somehow they are easier to swallow then the in your face BS that often happens here.
I was just so ready not to board the plane leaving Vegas 2 months back, was ready to forfit everything and never return to HU.Just walk away from all of my "things" and find another lifestyle. If my husband would only refuse to return here it would be great.
Never felt that way so much on any other return. No big problems for me in HU, just a very strange sense of isolation from reality and normal.I am mentally sound and of good health so it must be the vibes that do me in here.
Makes me understand why my father never wanted to teach us his native language or talk about his life in SE Poland as a child. He was a free minded person who lived for the present. I feel the negative political events of this region of the world are going to take a few more generations to leave the mind set of many people.
They have to learn some lessons that we in the west have already learned, life is more then getting one up on the next guy and money really will not make you happy.
Sorry for the sociology lesson!!

Marilyn Tassy :

....Makes me understand why my father never wanted to teach us his native language or talk about his life in SE Poland as a child. He was a free minded person who lived for the present. I feel the negative political events of this region of the world are going to take a few more generations to leave the mind set of many people.

I know what you mean Marilyn.  I've met the offspring of several 56'ers who never learnt their father's language. It's probably because they (the fathers) wanted to forget the past.  I know from people of Polish origin in the UK (there are quite a few) it depends on the time they arrived. During WW2, there were many Polish soldiers in the UK and with marriage to  local girls, they passed on the Polish language whereas later arrivals did not actively pass it on. I've also met a few Hungarian origin people in Austria  and even the UK and none of them could speak Hungarian (kids of 56'ers) even though they had Hungarian first and names (e.g. Ildiko, Horvath etc).  It seems to me it must have been so traumatic, they just tried to wipe it out of their memory.

I was so lucky to make contact with my "Polish" side of my family last year through a total accident.
I was messing about looking up the exact origins of my maiden surname.
My father came to the Us as a child around 1927 or 28.
He never exactly told us if we were Ukrainian, Polish or Russian.
We are actually a ethnic minority of the Carpathian Mountains called Ruysn or Lemko in Polish.
I found a message on the board of ancestory .com from a cousin of mine looking for relations of my grandfather.
Her aunt had died and she was cleaning out her home in Minn. and found 50 year old letters written in Ruysn from my grandfather.Some of the more interesting letter were from cousins in Poland who lived through the war years. Those letters were dated around the mid 1950's and hard to read without crying for them.
So very strange to finally know about the past. Was very creepy reading the translated letters. She had taken the time and money to translate every letter. Found out allot about my grandfather and the old country.
Seems he wasn't too happy about his 9 children not marrying into the Ruysn culture. Most of my cousins are half Italian. My mother was the worst in his mind though, she was half German. He referred to her always as the "German Woman". Sort of funny but also sort of upsetting that he was so narrow minded.
Several of us Ruysn, children went to the area of Gorlice in Poland last July to meet each other. It was really great, really interesting and emotional.
Seems I even have distant cousins born in Hungary who now live in the UK and work as doctors there. Such a rich family history that my father refused to talk about. Seems he was the "black sheep".
I had friends in Calif. growing up who were born in Hungary but left as toddlers in 56. There parents didn't speak much English and I never asked much about it. Wish I knew more then so as to get more knowledge of the past.
We used to know several 56 er's in Calif. who did very well for themselves in the US.
My husband escaped HU in 71.
His generation of newcomers in the US was a mixed bag of characters. Some good and some escaping more then just the communist system. Some should never of been allowed in the US to begin with while others were great people.
Some of the not so great ones have returned to HU as very wealthy people. We know of them here but avoid them at all costs, bad news always follows them for the innocent.

It is interesting for me to notice that many like my husband who grew up under the communist system somehow seemed to always sabatage themselves in the US. Like they felt guilty for being successful or "making good".
It was like they had drilled into their heads that only really evil or really nasty people can make money.
Money was evil but hard work without much reward was good.very sad mind set.

Hey, you get what you pay for!
It's just that 90% of the market falls into the "stolen parts, below minimum wage, no taxes paid" price segment, so it is literally the norm :-)

Duct tape is the North-American size and strength, uniform color version of the insulating tape "szigszalag".
Also, bales are held together with a distinctively fraying white or blue nylon sting instead of wires, "balamadzag", but you have to go out into the country to see that in all kinds of construction and repairs.
Plastic soft-drink bottles can somehow magically contain most liquid chemicals imaginable, including fuels and even solvents.

As reference I recommend the excellent Czechoslovakian stop-motion animation "Pat a Mat", and the rural Hungarian variant, "Mekkmester", both available on Youtube.

But I am sure you'd get the same results everywhere in the world if you paid the worker this little. Conversely the amount you'd pay for a repair in North America could probably get you an Electrical Engineer with a Masters degree for the whole day and rent the tools in Hungary...

BTW since most makeshift work is done with unique materials people can find in the trash, steal from their employer, or have left over, I find the results far more creative and unique than the boring same-old stuff North Americans make out of 2x4s, deck screws, plywood, and other store-bought parts.
I still can't get over the fact that all the identical-looking multiple-hundred-thousand dollar houses in North America are made by hand the way I'd make a tool shed, and how UPS trucks and school buses look like some guy made them out of scrap metal in a barn somewhere. The contrast of a modern car parking in front of a house-shaped barn with plastic stripes nailed to its side and single-pane windows is just shocking :-)

Oh, and price discrimination? It's the reason why online retailers like amazon and airline websites want to track you so badly: the true price of everything is what the buyer is willing to pay. Yes, the low-tech version is more in your face and probably illegal, but that just means you are not paying for all the support staff making it sneaky and all the lobbying to make it legal.

I do find doing my yoga first thing in the morning before stepping outside does help with every issue here in Hungary.
First off, I know as an American who has been coming back and forth to HU since 1978 and have known tons of Hungarians in the US since 1975 that you will NEVER really fit in with them.
Not to say anyone is mean or nasty but people I know that were raised in Hungary are just different then your average Calif. person.
So just give up on trying to fit in and learn to except that you will never fully understand why and how people do the things they do over here.
The language is not such a big issue anymore because most Hungarians know some English and are happy to practice on you. maybe not so fun for you but I know once they realize my Hungarian is very weak, they either speak English or just ignore you, that's if they are not strong in English skills.
To be a foreigner is a hard thing in any country.
I am very lucky that my husband is Hungarian and speaks perfect Hungarian. I have noticed that he has two different personality's. One when we are in the US ( more relaxed one) and one for when we are in Hungary ( a more serious and boring one).
You need to have an open style to make a go of it over here as an outsider.
If not, you won't be happy for long.
Most ex pats I know get away every once in awhile to re group and relax.
I know from my own personal experiences here in Hungary that if anything should ever happen to my husband I would be outta here ASAP.
We know many people who are born Hungarian lived in the US and have retired here in Hungary. Even they must go away every now and again or get caught up in semi- negative stuff. Most who have lived away for any period of time have a total disconnect with family members who have never left Hungary, sad really.
My husband does not even speak to his bro or sis who live in Hungary, he lived away for too long and they just think he is " strange".
Just learn to enjoy the beauty of Hungary and don't let yourself get mixed up in too many things that will make you feel like an outsider. Good luck.
PS, I have made friends with a lady from this site, good to know others in the same boat.

Marilyn Tassy :

The language is not such a big issue anymore because most Hungarians know some English

This is a regional issue.

In Budapest (or other large cities), some English language skills, even rudimentary, is much more common than in the "countryside". Where I live in Hungary, almost no one knows or understands English. German is more common.

And of those that do know English, most are young and soon leave for either Budapest or opportunities abroad.

So in brief -- don't count on Hungarians knowing much English outside large cities or tourist areas.

That is so true, in most villages they don't speak much English.
My MIL could never understand why I could not speak Hungarian from just being married to her son.
If only it worked that way!
The people in the states who I know who have learned Hungarian at a good level have had relations visit them for long periods of time and teach them at home by speaking HU to them every day.
We only know of a very few very smart people who have learned Hungarian without having a bad accent.
Even here in Hungary, my husband who speaks Hungarian at a perfect level( went to school in HU grew up here) sometimes can not understand fellow Hungarians who have country accents. He says hearing some of the younger generation of Hungarians is hard to hear. They don't use proper HU and don't know how to make small changes in the language to make it sound good to the hear.
Too much slang I suppose.

I am relatively new and live way outside Budapest near the Balaton with my lovely Hungarian wife. I don't get caught up in trying to fit in. I don't care if I make or not make good friends. I'm just me wherever I go. My Hungarian slowly improves, mostly by watching movies with my wife who needs the HU Subtitles.

Don't expect to have people just smile and say 'Have a nice day' like Southern Cal (where I am originally from ). Listen to people's stories, if you can, and stories of families and understand these people have been through hard-ships, that as Americans, we can barely concieve of.

However, no doubt for me, that the slow pace of natural life that you encounter here and similar places in the world is worth the whole tour. It's like Europe 50 years ago as I would imagine it.

Good luck to you all.

sadly this also just happened to me:(

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